This Weeks Geek - Beta? Demo? Bema?

In this day and age all triple A games are expected to have a demo or a beta before it launches.  Gamers are expected to have a chance to play through a small portion of a game before they have to actually commit money to it. I know the demo and beta is nothing new, but the ease at which they are accessible is. The question then becomes, what is really the difference between a beta and a demo, especially an open beta that seems to really blur the line? That is the focus of This Weeks Geek.

A beta is traditionally software that is nearly complete, but not quite there. The main code has been completed, but there are still bugs. These bugs can range from graphical glitches to game balance issues. The creators will invite a group of people to start playing the game, and in exchange they get bug reports. These reports are then used to improve the final game. This is very important as a company normally cannot afford as many in house testers as they get from a beta. The result is (traditionally) a more polished game at release.

Now a demo, in the past, has been part of a released game. Developers take a level or two from the completed project and make it available to everyone. People can play and make an informed decision of a game before it even comes out. I don't think I even need to explain why it is great that you get to test a game before buying it.

So the differences seem pretty clear cut, or at least they did until the advent of the open beta and pre-release demo. Open beta's are near release versions of the games that anyone can play. Most people, even though it says beta on the title, expect these to accuratly reflect the final product. And while the product claims to be in testing, you will be hard pressed to find a bug in an open beta. Their may be precious balance issues that are found this way, but mostly it is a marketing gimick to promote the game.  In this sense the beta feels more like a demo.  Then you have the pre-release demo, as seen most recently in Kingdoms of Amalur and Mass Effect 3. While both of these are good demos, they have bugs. While you are supposed to playing an example of the finished game, it seems like they are using this as an excuse for us to find said bugs, and hope they are reported (or at least they look for the complaints on forums, we gamers love to complain). An example of this is the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer demo where your characters abilities will not be on the quick bar when you change to a new character while in a lobby.

Now I am not saying there are not dedicated betas and demos out there. Most MMO's have demos that allow you to play a portion of the game, and then play to continue. And Diablo 3 is under a closed beta which is constantly being changed and balanced. But I am saying the line is becoming blurred. What does it mean for the future? When will a beta actually be nothing more then a marketing gimmick (more so then they are now)? Or am I looking too deep into this and I just need to sit down and play more games?